Shootmania Storm is an epiphany. It’s like someone took the modern expectations of what a multiplayer FPS should be, turned it upside down and shook it until all the bells, whistles and nonsense clattered onto the floor. What was left was sparse, light and clean. No iron-sights, no customisable classes, no massive production values… what on earth was left?
An epiphany. As I said.
The FPS has matured over the years. From it’s humble beginnings all the way to the monstrous media-wagons we see rumbling along our gaming avenues – Call of Duty, with all it’s gunnery and glory and screen-jam. Counter-Strike, with it’s merc-inspired setups and pistol-rounds. Battlefield, with it’s city-sized playgrounds and jet-fighters. Shootmania Storm has none of this, and yet somehow manages to capture my heart and my mouse-hand in a way that none of these others could.
Playing its most popular game mode – the free-for-all Arena – there is a map, several other players (free-for-all or teams), and a central capture-point. You have a gun of sorts, and… that’s about it. You get points for shooting others, and eliminating them gets you more points. You also get points for how long you survive too. The first player to capture the central point gets some points too, as well as triggering a massive tornado that starts inching its way in towards that central area. If it catches you, you are out. This forces everyone to start making their way towards the middle of the map. The last person standing gets a load of points too, and the first player to 200 points wins.
It’s a very pointy game.
The maps are mostly symmetrical, with boost-pads that throw you up to higher vantage points and there are a few buildings scattered around. All the maps have particular theme too – jungle, Aztec etc. They are generally okay, if not very interesting. Given that this is a -Mania game, I daresay the map-builders are on it as we speak. But this isn’t a game of tactical positioning or memorising weapon pick-ups (there aren’t any), they are simply coloured backdrops to your jumping/strafing/shooting acrobatics that are at the forefront of the experience.
The gun you have is an odd beast too. It has five shots, which regenerate over time. It looks and feels like a rocket-launcher of some kind, firing drifty, firebally projectiles that confusingly do no splash damage at all. Occasionally, it changes into a goo-ball firing thing, or a rail-gun-like rifle – which is even odder as there are no pickups, the weapon simply changes depending on where you are. Certain areas on the map trigger these different gun-types, and it can be confusing as hell.
Slowly, this oddness actually starts to make sense. If someone is shooting at me with a rail-gun-like thing, I now know exactly where he is. It’s about risk assessment, you will never ever have the advantage – even with an insta-kill rail-gun. And if you/he sticks around, savouring the different feel of the weapon, you will meet the storm.
The storm is a revelation. Triggered when a player captures the central point on the map, it moves inwards, eliminating all players that don’t relocate. It doesn’t move fast enough to instill a sense of urgency, at least not at first, but as the game wears on it adds a level of strategy to the combat that is simply superb. It can be an ally to the thoughtful player – using its approach to score a kill on someone playing hide-and-seek, as they run for cover. I found myself unconsciously positioning myself so that an opponent was between myself and the wall of wind – I could see both threats easily enough, he couldn’t watch us both.
And then it stops. A space of around 20 meters is left around the central point, with the surviving players peeking and booing around it as the wind and debris howls around them. It never lasts more than a few moments, but even just surviving till that end-game duel is exhilarating in itself. Between the weapon-pyrotechnics and the thundering storm – this is the kind of climax that all FPS games should have. And then it begins all over again, quickly and without much preamble. Shootmania Storm doesn’t really do preamble.
There are other game modes too – an attack-defense team mode called “Elite”, the tight (and quiet when I played) “Joust” kill-count race, and the oddity only known as “Combo”. Synchronised killing is the name of the game there, and I can’t quite work it out to be perfectly honest. Again, the modders will be out in force making even more personalised game modes in the near future, I’m sure.
It’s not the perfect shooter, however. There are a few gripes, the most significant of which (for me) was the rather floaty nature of game engine. Your movement is a little strange – the space-bar doubles as the “jump” and “run” button, inexplicably, and it took me an awful long time to work out why I was running when I was trying to jump. Your gun fires rocket-like things that move fairly fast, however longer range combat can be a little random at times – at least until you get used to it.
The maps are okay, and more are on the way, however there are a few horrible ones in the rotation at the moment – one particularly irritating Aztec-themed one with massive open spaces that just encourage spam-shooting at people half a mile away. The graphics themselves are actually quite nice, lush to a point and the whole laser-tag-motif is a pleasant change from blood, guts and bullet-holes. Eliminated players disappear with a flash and a pleasing ping, and the fact that every player has his/her own colour occasionally makes combat something of a neon-coloured light-show.
Shootmania Storm is like a car, with everything stripped out until all you have left is a seat, an engine and four wheels. You scoff at the lack of a radio, air con, windows… the word “bare” skips through your head as you start the engine. But the second you put your foot down, and feel the kind of acceleration you simply didn’t know existed… it’s an epiphany. It hits you like a neon-coloured splash-damage-less rocket as the world blurs around you –
It’s amazing just how little the stuff that’s missing actually matters. Sometimes less really is more.
Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
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